Earning Companion Pass and A-List Status on Southwest Airlines

In my book, I teach people how to earn points to fly for free on Southwest Airlines.  I use a variety of methods to earn free Rapid Rewards points that can be redeemed for free air travel.

In addition to getting several free flights in 2016, I earned enough points and made enough credit card purchases to earn two special status levels with Southwest Airlines: A-List and Companion Pass.

Companion Pass

Southwest Airlines' Companion Pass status is a level where the status earner can choose a person to fly for free with them on all flights for the following year.  This status actually kicks in when you earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.  This means if you hit Companion Pass status on April 1, 2017, you have this status from that day through December 31, 2018! What an amazing benefit. This companion can be ANYONE- your spouse, your child, your best friend, etc. 

Once you select your Companion pass designated person, you enter that person's information on your Southwest account online and register him/her as your traveling companion.  To travel with this person, you have to book reservations for your companion on the same exact legs as you're on for every flight (you book yourself first then add the person- do it sooner than later so the flight doesn't sell out).  That person still has to pay the $5.60 government fee for each one-way flight leg.  

The fastest, easiest way to earn points is using the Chase Southwest Airlines Chase Rapid Rewards Credit Card for every purchase you can.  Your purchases earn a Rapid Rewards point for every dollar spent.  

Don't have the Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Credit Card? 

Limited time promotion (click to apply)-  Earn 40,000 bonus points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card- when you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.(This offer is subject to credit approval. Please read website for full conditions and details.)

The key to earning as many points as possible via the credit card is to use it for as many transactions as you feel comfortable.  Think- online purchases, everyday purchases, gas, bill payments, medical expenses, etc.  The important important thing is to not go into debt to earn free flights. I set aside the cash to pay for the purchases I make on my rewards credit card, and then pay it off each month.  Going to debt for free travel defeats the purpose.

The current Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Card is black. If you have the older blue card and you cancelled it, you may be eligible for this new card and get the bonus points offer again, even if you already have in the past.

Other tips:
  • Use the Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal (found on the Rapid Rewards website) to earn points via online purchases made through their portal.
  • Use Rapid Rewards Dining to get points while dining out at restaurants.
  • Set your hotel rewards programs to give you airline points instead of or in addition to hotel points.
  • Fill out online surveys through companies like E-Rewards, E-miles and Valued Opinions to earn points.
  • Use partner rental car companies, hotels and transportation shuttle services to earn rewards points.

(Looking for detailed, step-by-step instructions? There's a dedicated chapter to flying for free or cheap in my book- links to the right.)

So how do both you and your Companion Pass person fly for free?  Easy!  When you book your reservation, book it using the points you worked to earn.  Then, add your Companion and book his/her reservation.  (Note- when using points, you still have to pay for the $5.60 security fee).


A-List is a special status you hit when you earn 35,000 qualifying points in a calendar year or 25 one-way flights.  These points are earned from qualifying points from flights and specific transactions.

Why hit A-List?  We have special benefits like Priority Boarding; a Priority Lane at the ticket counter check-in; free same-day standby; a 25% bonus on all points earned from flights; and a dedicated A-list Member phone support line.

I think you're more likely to hit A-List from flights versus points. Here's how to better hit 25 one-way flights in a year, especially if you fly for work:
  • Book all of your flights one-way instead of round-trip.  The security fees are the same and you get two different confirmation numbers, but you can be sure each flight counts as a one-way.
  • Are you carrying on all of your bags, and you have a connecting flight?  Book four one-ways.  For example: if you are flying from Boston to Los Angeles and you are traveling through Chicago, check out the flight legs and book each leg separately: Boston to Chicago, Chicago to Los Angeles; then to get home, Los Angeles to Chicago, and Chicago to home.   Do this carefully to ensure you have enough time to get to your connecting flight.  It is recommended to do this only if you are not checking bags.  If you are checking bags, pick flights with at least a two-hour gap in between arrival time and departure time, as you will have to go redeem your bags at baggage claim and then check them into your new flight.  You will also have to pay twice the airport security fees, but to me it's worth it.
  • Research trips to see if you're better off flying than driving to get your rewards points.  For example, I've found it often to be cheaper to fly to either Washington DCA Airport or Baltimore BWI airport and rent a car versus driving my own car down to the Baltimore/DC area for an event.

Dear Race Directors and Athletes- From Your Pace Group Leader

If you have participated in or watched half or full marathons across the country, you may see some runners with large signs with numbers on them.  These are pace group leaders- runners who finish the race within a minute of a specific goal time.  They help others on the course by providing a guidepost for those that want to finish by that specific time.  They also provide company to those out on the course who may otherwise be alone.  

I have the joy of pacing with three different organizations and it's been a great experience. I've paced half marathon groups for 2:45, 3:00, 3:30 and sweeper (dead last finisher).   I work for one of the largest and best national pacing companies- Beast Pacing- which provides pacing teams for half and full marathons across the country and for large series like the Hot Chocolate races.  I also work for two regional race organizers that provide their own pacers.

Pace group leader signs for half and full marathon times

Race Directors: How We Can Help You

What are the advantages of having pace teams at your event?

We are experienced runners who can help your participants achieve their goal finish times, including Boston Qualifying times.  

We can help participants avoid going out too fast at the start, and avoid burning out on hills.  

We can help other participants come in under a time limit.  If your course time limit is three hours, the 3:00 pacer will show other participants where the end of the race is and can help encourage participants to the finish.

You can have a pacer serve as the last finisher.  One of the pacing positions often used is called the “Sweeper.”  It is that person’s job to be the dead-last finisher.  There’s an advertising point to participants- "you won’t be last; we have someone for that!" (Think of how many people are afraid to be last.)  Also, your volunteers and your police details can see where the end of the race really is.  

Pacers are often stacked in times that allow participants to drop back to another pace team if the one they are with is too fast for them, or if they feel themselves slowing down.  For example, someone may start with a 2:15 pace team and fall back to join a 2:30 group.  Other participants may have a goal time in between the pace team times and will choose to stay in between the groups, keeping the one in front of them in their view as a reference.  As we pass people on the course who are falling behind, we invite them to join our group or offer cheers and support.

Having pace group leaders is not a violation of USATF rules.  Since organized/official pace teams are available to all race participants, there is no USATF conflict.  The rule violation is if one individual has his/her own pacer, such as a runner or a cyclist on the course.

Experienced pacers know their exact pace for each mile, let their group know if they are ahead at each mile marker, and are often wearing two GPS devices just in case one fails.  

Pacers are conscious of the weather conditions, traffic, and course safety.  Pacers will remind participants to hydrate.  We will ask participants to not run wide across the course so others who want to pass are not blocked.  We will also remind participants to be sensitive of their safety, especially on open courses.  We’re often shouting to those ahead of us to warn them about oncoming cars.

Occasionally we have to be the voice of reason and experience to a runner who is medically struggling on a course.  We have advised participants who are clearly injured or in medical danger to stop at an aide or medical station.  

When you choose your pace slots- don't forget the back of the back. Some half marathons have pacers just go up to 2:00 or 2:30. Slower paces can benefit from pace groups just as much as faster groups can. 

If you need verification of how much pace teams are worth having at your event- watch the pacers that get hugs from members of their group at the finish line; watch the pacers that are asked to pose for photos; or look for the thanks the pacers get on your race’s social media pages.  To a pacer, that finish line hug is the ultimate sign of a job well done.

The Celebrate Life Half Marathon Pace Team (Rock Hill, NY). Photo credit: Adam Osmond.

To Athletes- From Your Pace Group Leader

Being a pace group leader in a race is a privilege and an honor. It is an amazing opportunity to help other people out. Most of us are doing it because we want to help others achieve their race goals.

Yes, most pacers get their race entry for free for their services. We are not paid. The free entry covers for what we are doing- coming in (usually within a minute of) a specific time to serve as a guide for those on the course. We're racing for others, not for us. We are getting a comped entry for our service, like someone may get a free entry for volunteering.

Most of us pace 20 to 30 minutes slower than our regular race times (depending upon the distance) so we are at what is an "easy" pace for us, meaning we can talk and interact with people comfortably for the whole race.

Most of us take our pacing very seriously. We don't want to let people down. We're checking where we are at each mile. We're learning the names of everyone we are with and cheering them on. We're telling bad jokes, celebrating when we're halfway there, pointing out the last 5K, and psyching people up for the last mile. We're reminding you to hydrate and asking how everyone is doing.

Pacers are a guide. We are not a replacement for poor or inadequate training. You need to have an idea of what your pace is. If you don't know your pace and your estimated finishing time, whether you run, walk or do a mix- you didn't train correctly.

Sometimes people line up with the wrong pace group and are over-ambitious and then bonk out. If you run a 2:30 half marathon and you start with the 2:00 group, you are going to have a lousy experience.  Others will try to stay in front of us with their goal being that they want to be ahead of us the whole time.  I think you will be better off staying with us for at least the first half of a race and then pull ahead later, so you don’t use up all your energy up front.

If you didn't train- we are not miracle workers.  It's a pace sign, not a magic wand.

I tell people: race the way you trained. If you're a Galloway person (you do run/walk intervals) and I'm straight running, we're going to cross back and forth a lot, but we will balance out. Don't switch to straight running just because I am, because you're going to ruin your race.

Most of us opt to not pace a race we have never done before. In the case of an inaugural event, we'll drive the course the day before (if roads allow) to get a feel for it to see where the hills are and what the roads are like. We know where the hill from hell is. We know where the water stops are.

If we are alone on the course, we are not "doing it wrong." In some smaller races and for some of the later pace groups, we are often occasionally alone. This is what is happening... We have people in front of us who are looking back to make sure we are still behind them, and their goal is to stay in front of us. Or, we have people behind us who are keeping us in their sight. We're still the guidepost and we're still maintaining our pace.

Some people do better following a pace group by using them as an indicator rather than staying with them. Some people realize halfway through a race that our group is too slow for them and they go ahead. Some people will catch up to us and pass us in the last miles. Some people don't want to be around others and stay just behind us.

Pacers may finish alone. At mile 12.8, I might tell you to take off if you have it in you.  Some pace groups pick up people who fell back from a later pace group or went out too fast. If I am pacing in a sweeper position, I stay behind whoever is last and finish behind them. 

Pacers are human. It is rare, but occasionally a pacer gets sick, gets a cramp, trips/falls/gets hurt, or for some reason cannot continue and has to drop out. We apologize to our group and get off the course at the nearest water stop.

Pacers have different strategies. Some do straight run through and slow down through water stops, while others walk the uphills and the water stops. The strategy may change from race to race based on the time being paced and based on the nature of the course. Pacers should be telling their groups what their strategy is before the start.

Our goal time is based on when we crossed the start mat, not when the clock started (chip time). Don't panic if clocks on the course or at the finish makes us look off (gun time). This also means if you started well ahead of us in a larger race, we could be a minute or more off from each other.  If I catch up to you, my time will be faster than yours.  The exception is for races that are gun-time only (meaning there is no starting mat time captured and the finish times are based on when the race starts).

If your expectations about what a pace group can do for you are realistic then we're going to have a great time!

Yes, You Can Afford to Travel More... If You Stop Spending Money on Stupid Crap.

Sometimes people respond to my travel schedule with comments such as "I can't afford to do that" or "I can't believe you spend so much money on that."

I look at what some other people spend their money on, and I think- I can't afford to waste money on that.

I prefer to spend money on life experiences rather than physical possessions. For me, the life experiences I enjoy include visiting tourists sites across the country for road races, bike rides, and other endurance events.  These races have given me the chance to run, walk or bike ride in the most beautiful, scenic and amazing places in the United States.  I get in my exercise and my sightseeing (often on the course).

Want to travel more?  Study your spending habits for a month.  I bet you'll see your patterns within a week and see where you can change what you buy to have more money for travel adventures.

A pack of cigarettes a day in New England is about $8.50 a day.  If you smoke a pack a day, that's over $3,000.00 dollars a year.  That's easily a trip for a family of four to Walt Disney World. Or, in terms of endurance events- that's about 45 race entries for a year.

If you buy a cup of coffee (regular or fancy) from a coffee shop daily, on average you're spending $780.00 a year.  That's my trip to see the Redwoods in California.  Or, that's 10 half marathons.

Are you doing one or two errand drives a day? Combine all your errands into one day a week to save gas and time.  See how many places you could walk to, or even take a bus to, to save driving around.

These are just three quick and easy examples of how money spent on everyday non-essentials can add up, and could easily be directed to your savings account or your travel fund.

There are many other physical items people choose to spend money on that I don't so I can travel instead.  I don't need the latest phone or computer.  I don't have cable television.  I use my local library system for books.  I don't buy $300 purses or shoes.  I don't buy a video that I'll watch once and then sell at a tag sale in two years.  See the pattern?  I question everything I may want to see if I really need it.

This is different from the basics of food, shelter, clothing, and utilities (electricity, water and heat). But within this realm, I question what I am buying (as I don't need soda or highly processed frankenfoods).  

I travel as cheaply as possible. I don't need to stay in five star resorts (but I'm not staying somewhere where I sleep with the lights on in fear either).  I room share as much as possible.  I don't need to eat in super fancy restaurants every night.  I don't come home with trinkets or gifts (of which most wind up being clutter).  I price out flights versus driving, rental cars versus Zipcar, and mass transit options.  A little time spent researching and planning can save you a lot in the long run.

If money and income is limited, it comes down to making the best choices for how you use your resources.  Will you spend $10.00 a day at your workplace cafeteria buying breakfast, lunch and/or snacks, or will you brown-bag it and use the money for travel instead?  Will you skip going to see a movie in the theaters at $11.00 a ticket and wait for it to come out on video and use that money towards a trip instead?

Those of us in the sporting hobby aren't innocent when it comes to not spending money on useless products.

Here are the areas where most endurance athletes waste their money:

1) Buying products that advertise they will make you run or bike faster.  While some of these items do actually work, based on your level of performance and competition, they're probably not worth it.

2) Buying products that guarantee you will lose weight.  (If these products really worked, we wouldn't have an obesity problem.)  There is no magic pill, drink, or shake for weight loss.  Some products may help with a good diet and exercise, but most often it's the diet and exercise that did the trick.  There are some supplements that help (such as vitamins and protein shakes) but the key word is supplement- they add on to a solid nutrition program.

3) Buying several pairs of shoes that don't fit you correctly or that you don't use because they look cute on you or because they're on sale.   Unused or bad-fitting shoes= waste of money.

4) Buying too many finisher's items, race commemorative merchandise, or accessory clothing.

5) Signing up for non refundable events that we don't have the time or dedication to train for.

6) Signing up for gym memberships that you don't use or classes that you don't go to.